A college application boot camp. Three days in a row, four hours per day. In the beginning of August.

To you, that may not sound like the most compelling summer event. But the Freehold Regional High School District, which is running the program, is already dealing with a waitlist of interested students and families.

"It's definitely become more competitive ... and the process has to start earlier," Mike Dillon, director of guidance and operations for the district, said of the application and admissions process.

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The program is promoted as a way for students to enhance their college search and help decide which college, university or technical school is their "best fit." While on site at Manalapan High School from Aug. 3 through Aug. 5, students will learn about the admissions process and craft an essay that can be submitted to schools they'd like to attend.

Counselors and English teachers will be in the same room, offering feedback in real time.

"The college essay is more important now than ever, especially with schools that are either test-optional or test-blind," Dillon said.

Montclair State University, Stockton University and Rowan University, along with other higher-education institutions in the Garden State, do not require applicants to submit SAT/ACT test scores. Other schools temporarily nixed the test-score requirement due to challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to available staff and potential social-distancing rules, the 2021 three-day boot camp has 170 spots available for rising seniors in the district. The district is still accepting registration from folks who want to be notified should a spot open up. A seat costs $100, but there's no charge for students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, Dillon said.

The district held its first in-person college application boot camp in the summer of 2019; more than 180 students completed the program. A live event was not held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 threat, but the district put together a website where students could access resources remotely.

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